The Capture of Bastille

Topics: French Revolution, Louis XVI of France, Louis XIV of France Pages: 5 (1953 words) Published: October 26, 2008
BASTILLE (from Fr. bastir, now bdtir, to build), originally any fortified building forming part of a system of defence or attack; the name was especially applied to several of the principal points in the ancient fortifications of Paris. In the reign of King John, or even earlier, the gate of Saint Antoine was flanked by two towers; and about 1369 Hugues Aubriot, at the command of Charles V., changed it into a regular bastille or fort by the addition of six others of massive structure, the whole united by thick walls and surrounded by a ditch 25 ft. wide. Various extensions and alterations were afterwards effected; but the building remained substantially what it was made by the vigorous provost, a strong and gloomy structure, with eight stern towers. As the ancient fortifications of the city were superseded, the use of the word bastille as a general designation gradually died out, and it became restricted to the castle of Saint Antoine, the political importance of which made it practically, long before it was actually, the only bastille of Paris. The building had originally a military purpose, and it appears as a fortress on several occasions in French history. When Charles VII. retook Paris from the English in 1436, his opponents in the city took refuge in the Bastille, which they were prepared to defend with vigour, but the want of provisions obliged them to capitulate. In 1588 the duke of Guise took possession of the Bastille, gave the command of it to Bussy-Leclerc, and soon afterwards shut up the whole parlement within its walls, for having refused their adherence to the League. When Henry IV. became master of Paris he committed the command of the Bastille to Sully, and there he deposited his treasures, which at the time of his death amounted to the sum of 15,870,000 livres. On the 11th of January 1649 the Bastille was invested by the forces of the Fronde, and after a short cannonade capitulated on the 13th of that month. The garrison consisted of only twenty-two men. The Frondeurs concluded a peace with the court on the 11th of March; but it was stipulated by treaty that they should retain possession of the Bastille, which in fact was not restored to the king till the 21st of October 1651. At a very early period, however, the Bastille was employed for the custody of state prisoners, and it was ultimately much more of a prison than a fortress. According to the usual account, which one is tempted to ascribe to the popular love of poetical justice, the first who was incarcerated within its walls was the builder himself, Hugues Aubriot. Be this as it may, the duke of Nemours spent thirteen years there in one of those iron cages which Louis XI. called his fillettes; and Jacques d'Armagnac, Poyet and Chabot were successively prisoners. It was not till the reign of Louis XIII. that it became recognized as a regular place of confinement; but from that time till its destruction it was frequently filled to embarrassment with men and women of every age and condition. Prisoners were detained without trial on lettres de cachet for different reasons, to avoid a scandal, either public or private, or to satisfy personal animosities. But the most frequent and most notorious use of the Bastille was to imprison those writers who attacked the government or persons in power. It was this which made it so hated as an emblem of despotism, and caused its capture and demolition in the Revolution. Of the treatment of prisoners in the Bastille very various accounts have been given even by those who speak from personal experience, for the simple reason that it varied greatly in different cases. The prisoners were divided into two main classes, those who were detained on grounds of precaution or by way of admonitory correction, and those who lay under presumption or proof of guilt. The former were subject to no investigation or judgment, and the length of their imprisonment depended on the will of the king; the latter were brought to trial in the...
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